Go beyond the recruitment agency and the standard contract.
Hiring is personal. These people are going to come into your workplace, to the business you've built from scratch, and they won't work like you do. Of course, most of us realize that that's a good thing. We want people who challenge our methods, our processes, and our blind spots.
We also want people who get us, and our business. Who are enthusiastic about our products and services, who can see the value we add, who can see where we want to go and who are excited to build the road that gets us there. Hiring is personal. And it's nerve-wracking.
More and more entrepreneurs are turning away from recruitment agencies as the primary source of candidates. There is something about the process of hiring from these agencies that strips the personnel away from the decision. In startups, the pace of work is intense and employees spend a lot of time together, in those intense situations. Stripping the personal away from the hiring decisions sets us up for distraction in the form of interpersonal issues, personality clashes, cultural misfits and other avoidable problems.
Lucky for us, there are a number of other sources that we can utilize, on our own.
Friends and family
These are the people who most want to see you succeed, and are therefore the richest source of good recommendations. Some also make great employees and consultants, provided you are able to create clear boundaries in the dual relationship you now share. In any case, friends and family can always be relied on in a pinch, and having a list of people in reserve, for when you need extra help is always a good idea.
Word of mouth and personal recommendations
Connect with old colleagues, friends, college alumni and within your expanded social circle. These candidates come pre-vetted as most people are loath to recommend someone they haven't worked with (or heard great things about) to someone they know personally. Think about all the times when you've recommended someone for a job - has there ever been a time you knowingly recommended a bad apple? Exactly.
Identify third-party platforms to connect with specific candidate personas on the platforms they use most. Social media recruiting should be a significant part of your strategy as the vast majority of candidates find jobs on social media. Additionally, creating social media content for employer branding is a great way to show off your unique startup culture in a more natural and candid way.
Your communities are always a great source.
Attending startup-focused events and meetups
The great thing about these events is that everyone there is looking to network. Trawling these can easily help you identify new firms to partner with, connect you to great consultants, and in some cases, the candidates themselves. Attending these is a great way to build up a roster of people you'd like to hire/consult/partner with when the time comes.
It also is a great way to fine-tune your requirements - I know I've revised my JD for technical lead upwards after meeting some great candidates at a software developer meetup. I was aiming too low! The quality of candidates these meetups attract is astounding.
Getting compensation right
Everyone has an opinion on this one, and they're all right. For them. You need to work out what works for you, and the bright, promising candidate you're hoping to hire. For me, I look at three key things:
How do I craft an offer the candidate will be happy with?
For most candidates, the key criteria are growth and money. This is why they come to startups because, the meteoric growth we offer is unmatched. As is the money they'll make… eventually. All the other factors like job satisfaction, the ability to make an impact in the world, and doing something interesting/challenging/fun - are at par. This is what one expects from any employer of any size.
What we have going for us as startups, is our potential.
How do I design my compensation packages so that the employee and my goals line up?
Don't be afraid to offer packages that scale with the company. Whether you do that with incentives, ESOPs, or straight-up equity, it keeps candidates engaged in a way that lines up their goals with yours. As the company succeeds and grows, so does the employee's compensation. Google started out in 1998, and went public six years later, in 2004. At that time, the IPO shares were priced at $85 a share for a valuation of $23 billion. Do you think Google lost many high performers between '98 and '04? Probably. But for those who stuck around, it was a windfall that changed their lives.
How do I safeguard myself against poor performance?
By using compensation in this way, you also safeguard yourself against poor performance. If you structure the cost to the company in a way that gives greater emphasis to performance and allows you to 'confirm' an employee only after a certain time period, you save yourself the hassle of making a decision to fire. Those who aren't up to the mark aren't confirmed. It's that simple.
When crafting compensation packages and contracts, it is best to use all the tools at your disposal, especially if you're a first-time entrepreneur. It is very important to use local legal teams, as each geography has its legal framework. Ditto the commercials. This is especially relevant now that several of our employees and consultants work from wherever they are. Knowing the applicable laws and guidelines is crucial to protect yourself and your employee.
It is also a really good idea to connect with your peers and exchange notes on what the current trends are. Once you know what sort of salaries and benefits are the norm, you feel more confident breaking these norms for the right candidate. Ultimately, listen to all the advice that's coming your way, and do your own thing.
It's not easy, but you've got this.